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States Criticized on Standards for Veteran Teachers

By Linda Jacobson — January 04, 2005 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 3 min read
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Corrected: The story cited the wrong location for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. It is based in Washington. In trying to correct that information in the Feb. 2 issue, the newspaper inadvertently gave a wrong location for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It is in Arlington, Va.

States may be demanding high standards of their newly certified teachers, but they’re doing a poor job of requiring their veteran teachers to get the training necessary to meet the “highly qualified” provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a new assessment of states’ progress.

“Searching the Attic: How States Are Responding to the Nation’s Goal of Placing a Highly Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom” is available online from the National Council on Teacher Quality. ()

While there are a few exceptions, most states are either exempting veteran teachers from any coursework or asking them to complete activities that have little connection to the subjects they teach, according to the study, released last month by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based organization that advocates the elimination of bureaucratic obstacles that keep talented people from teaching.

“Most states neither share the urgency nor the single-minded focus of the U.S. Congress in seeking to address the low academic standards required of American teachers, arguably the least rigorous among all developed nations,” the report says, adding that many states don’t have the “political stomach for remedying the impact of substandard, expired certification regulations.”

‘Searching the Attic’

The report, which follows the group’s first study, released last spring, grades states’ plans for addressing the HOUSSE—or “high objective uniform state standard of evaluation”—provisions of the federal law that relate to experienced teachers.

Five states—Alabama, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania—require all teachers, regardless of how long they’ve been teaching, to have at least a college minor in the subjects they teach. They each received a B or a B-plus in the report.

“Though their standard falls short of NCLB’s goal of an academic major for all levels of teaching, this group of states offers a pragmatic response that other states should consider,” the report says.

Thirty states offer teachers a menu, allowing them to acquire points for professional-development activities or serving on a committee. In fact, the report’s title, “Searching the Attic,” is drawn from the image of teachers rummaging through old papers looking for evidence that they participated in some qualifying activity in the past.

“The insistence that ‘there is more to teaching than subject-matter knowledge’ has often been taken to an illogical extreme, resulting in too many certified teachers who are inadequately prepared to teach their core discipline in the classroom,” the authors write.

Colorado received an A-plus for being the only state to require all teachers to either pass tests in the subjects they teach or take the number of courses close to earning a major.

“When it comes to embracing the spirit of NCLB, not just the letter, Colorado’s program does exactly that,” the report says.

Eight states—California, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia—received F’s, mostly for allowing teachers too many options that are unrelated to subject knowledge.

But the authors—Kate Walsh, the president of the council, and Emma Snyder, a researcher with the council—don’t place all the responsibility on the states for disappointing performance. Congress, the report says, should “revisit the structure of the highly qualified teacher provision.”

And the U.S. Department of Education, they recommend, should be clear that a major is no less than 30 credit hours, and a minor no less than 15.

Other definitions of a highly qualified teacher, the report says, could include certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, or a passing score on a test offered by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. Alternative-certification programs are a strategy supported by the council, which helped to found the ABCTE.

With the deadline for states having “highly qualified” teachers just a year away, the council’s report is the latest to weigh in on that aspect of the law.

Tom Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a nonprofit group in Arlington, Va., working to improve teacher preparation and make the teaching profession more rewarding, said the report suggests that states and Congress might be missing a prime opportunity to improve the quality of the teaching workforce. But he said many questions remain about how unqualified teachers are distributed at the school level.

There is still too much emphasis placed on the “inputs” of teacher quality, such as certification and testing, he added. With progress being made in the area of “value added” research, he said, there should be more efforts to evaluate veteran teachers’ actual performance.

A version of this article appeared in the January 05, 2005 edition of Education Week as States Criticized on Standards for Veteran Teachers

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